CASPER, Wyo. -- A Cheyenne Frontier Days in diapers?
That might be an exaggeration, but as an economic force, the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper has plenty of room to grow, organizers say.
During the CNFR, the Casper Events Center has a spectator capacity of about 6,850, which has never been reached. The championship round Saturday night has entertained about 5,400 people in recent years. During the week, attendance has been more like 3,000.
An obvious challenge, therefore, is simply to fill the house every night.
"We're not at standing-room-only tickets yet," said Roger Walters, National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association commissioner. "So when we get to that point, then we'll have to worry about what else to do."
As attendance increases, expenditures associated with visits during the CNFR -- including meals, fuel and souvenirs -- also will grow, he added.
Aaron McCreight, CEO of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, estimates CNFR visitor spending at $1.2 million annually in recent years. The event moved to Casper in 1999.
McCreight thinks that with a recently announced 10-year contract extension in place to keep the event in town until 2022, a long-term strategy for growth has become more practical.
McCreight wants to look first toward the "drive market," or people living in other Wyoming communities.
"There are plenty of people in this state who appreciate rodeo, that are reachable, that can come down for a night, that can come down for a day," he said.
McCreight said it's worth evaluating ways to expand events associated with the CNFR. He also would like to commission a scientific study of CNFR visitors: "I think that's going to come sooner rather than later."
While the new contract provides a degree of certainty for planning efforts, "the one fear we would have with the long extension is complacency," McCreight said. Casper must continue to work hard at hosting the event and not take its presence for granted.
Renee Penton-Jones, marketing and promotions director for the CNFR, said social media was ramped up this year to generate interest far and wide for the event.
The 2011 CNFR kicked off June 12 at the Casper Events Center and concluded Saturday night. By midweek, the CNFR Facebook page had received more than 60,000 hits.
By Friday, people from Dallas were responsible for the largest number of hits, a finding Penton-Jones said will require further analysis.
"Maybe we need to go to Dallas," she said.
Penton-Jones said the current marketing budget for the CNFR is just $30,000, so support from the state Division of Tourism and the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is particularly important.
The Division of Tourism, for example, has a program that profiles state cowboys, including participants in the CNFR, she said.
Cheyenne Frontier Days had nearly 192,000 visitors at events just at Frontier Park in 2009, so Casper's event has a long way to go before rivaling "The Daddy of 'Em All."
In 2010, about 24,700 tickets were sold or otherwise distributed for CNFR rodeo sessions, according to the Events Center.